Diabetes in pets

Diabetes in pets can be controlled through veterinary care and by following a strict diet, much like humans need. The causes and resultant symptoms of diabetes are similar, although not the same, in humans and pets. Dogs usually have type 1 (insulin-dependent) while cats typically have type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.

What exactly is diabetes and how does it affect your pet’s health?

Diabetes is essentially an inability of the body to metabolise sugars. All forms of food are ultimately broken down into a starch carbohydrate-like molecule, which is converted into energy. The effects include significant damage to the eyes, recurring cystitis or bladder infections, severe weight fluctuations, increased susceptibility to infections, longer healing periods and ultimately coma resulting in death if the blood sugars are extremely high or extremely low.

shutterstock_125621204How can you identify the symptoms?

  • Tiredness – your pet may be sleeping more than normal, be sluggish, show signs of illness or his coat may be dull.
  • Hunger and thirst – diabetic pets tend to be hungrier and thirstier.
  • Cataracts or ‘clouding’ of the eyes.
  • Urination – pets will urinate more frequently with the onset of diabetes.

These factors increase the chances of diabetes:

  • Middle to old age – older pets are predisposed to diabetes.
  • Obesity ­– this contributes to a number of diseases, diabetes being one of many.
  • Unspayed females – much has been debated about issues on spaying and neutering. One of the benefits of spaying is protection against a number of risks.
  • Predisposed breeds – some breeds that are prone to diabetes include the Keeshond, Yorkshire Terrier, Miniature Poodle and Schnauzer, Bichon Frise, Fox Terrier and the Burmese cat.
  • Indoor cats – inactivity may contribute to risks associated with diabetes.

Healthy nutrition plays a significant role in managing diabetes as food is fuel for the body and as explained, is converted into a carbohydrate-like form which is converted into energy.

For dogs, a low carbohydrate diet prescribed for diabetes:
  • assist in lowering blood glucose.
  • enable control of high blood sugar.
  • slow small-intestinal digestion and improve glycaemic control.
  • combat oxidative stress through anti-oxidants.
In cats, a diet prescribed for diabetes:
  • promotes optimal body composition and minimises insulin resistance.
  • has a low glycaemic index in conjunction with the gelling action of psyllium mucilages.
  • has a high protein content.
  • helps minimise risks associated with joint diseases.

So, just like humans, diabetes in dogs and cats is a major risk to their health and well-being, but it can be treated and managed through expert veterinary care and a precise diabetic veterinary diet.

Speak to your veterinarian if your pet shows any signs referred to in this article.

Dr Louis Boag, veterinarian

The full article appears in the April 2015 issue of AnimalTalk. 


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